An Illustration Inspiration interview with Alyssa Bermudez, Creator of Big Apple Diaries
The Children’s Book Review
Alyssa Bermudez is a born and bred New Yorker now living down under in Tasmania. She studied illustration and animation at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After spending many years working for magazines, agencies, and schools as an art teacher, she moved across the world to Hobart, Tasmania, where she works as a freelance author and illustrator. Her illustrations can be found in many books, including the Lucia The Luchadora series and the Amelia Chamelia series.
I make art because …
I make art because I have to. It’s a magical way to express yourself. Whether it’s drawing, painting, writing, or everything combined, I feel as though I can better understand and reflect on the world around me through art.
I’ve made art as far back as I can remember. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a shoe designer, so I learned how to draw a basic foot and created endless shoe designs with other matching accessories. I even made a little book for them all to live in with different chapters based on the shoe style. I’ve always loved the self-expression that fashion and art can showcase, and I eventually went to school for fashion illustration and animation. I learned that stylizing, gesture, and motion can be utilized in all areas of illustration. I have found my happy place!
My latest published book is …
Big Apple Diaries! This book is near and dear to my heart because it’s a graphic memoir based on my real-life diaries. It’s a middle grade book in diary format covering the formative years before, during, and after 9/11/01. The terrorist attacks in the city changed my life and the lives of everyone around me. All of the middle school trials and tribulations, crushes, and funny experiences all seemed suddenly smaller. Everything that mattered before didn’t seem to matter anymore. This book shows some of my innermost thoughts from that time and how my friends, family, and I found a new sense of purpose amidst the chaos.
I always knew I wanted to create something special from my diaries, so this book has been in the making for almost ten years. In 2015 I moved from NYC to the other side of the world in Australia, where I realized how important the New Yorker side of my story was. People kept asking me what it was like to grow up in New York City, so I decided I would finally show them.
Big Apple Diaries is my author-illustrator debut and it is thrilling to finally share it with the world.
Art medium used …
For picture books, I have used watercolor paints, textures, and digital paint. For Big Apple Diaries, I used Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq monitor.
Artistic process …
Big Apple Diaries is my first ever long-form graphic novel, so it was definitely a learning curve for me. I’ve illustrated several picture books, but the jump from 32 pages to almost 300 was a lot to think about!
I definitely underestimated how emotional it would be to create the images to go with something so deeply personal. It was wonderful exploring the visuals of New York City from that time and recreating the relationships with my parents and friends.
I love using pen and ink, but I created all of the artwork digitally. First, I roughly laid out the text and created simple sketches to determine the layouts, pacing, and timing. Next came editorial feedback, adjustments, and sample art. Once all of the stars aligned, I went back to page one and began the final art in Photoshop. I thought about this project for about ten years, and it took about one year to actually finish it.
I am inspired by …
Creative and brave kids, women throughout history, entrepreneurs. I am also very inspired by all of the places I’ve traveled to and the cultures I’ve been introduced to.
My favorite place to create & illustrate is …
My most creative space is the gallery I teach art classes in. I feel free just to play and explore there. The place I am most productive, however, is my coworking space in Hobart, Australia. I feel more compelled to be on task there, and when I leave, I am able to separate myself from work a little bit.
My most used art supply or tool is …
Photoshop, watercolor, and acrylic paints.
Illustrator idols …
I love art history and the history of storytelling. I would say my illustrator idols would be JC Leyendecker, Coles Phillips, Rene Gruau, Toulouse Lautrec, and Bil Donovan. I was lucky enough to have Bil Donovan as a teacher and I absolutely LOVE fashion illustration. Someone more current and in comics that I really admire the work of is Jillian Tamaki.
All-time favorite children’s book I didn’t illustrate…
I loved the Madeline books as a kid and felt so strongly connected to her for some reason. I love the books now for the beautiful paintings by Ludwig Bemelmans. I also all of the books by Miroslav Sasek. Perhaps because I grew up in New York City, all of these illustrated city scenes stuck to my heart and felt like home.
Something that sticks out to me at the moment is Ryan Andrew’s This Was Our Pact graphic novel, which I read recently. It’s the most magical book and made me feel warm, fuzzy, and childlike again.
A literary character to create art with …
This is such a tough question. I think I would choose someone from Harry Potter so that I can find out what magical elements can be incorporated into the art process.
Currently working on …
I am currently working on the follow-up to Big Apple Diaries, called Run Home. It’s a companion book in diary format. It’s a deeply heartfelt graphic memoir unpacking the loss of my father as a teenager, being thrown off of the path, and finding the way back to a different yet still hopeful path. It’s the sort of book that I could only create with hindsight to guide me because when I was fourteen, I could not imagine a time when the feeling of loss could shift to a place that celebrated life. The emotional journey will also be accompanied by more color, which I am so excited about! Stay tuned!
To learn more, visit www.alyssabermudezart.com.
Written and Illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez
Ages 8-12 | 288 Pages
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press | ISBN-13: 9781250774279
Publisher’s Synopsis: In Big Apple Diaries, a heartfelt diary-style graphic memoir by Alyssa Bermudez, a young New Yorker doodles her way through middle school―until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack leaves her wondering if she can ever be a kid again.
It’s the year 2000 in New York City. For 12-year old Alyssa, this means splitting time between her Puerto Rican dad’s apartment in Manhattan and her white mom’s new place in Queens, navigating the trials and tribulations of middle school, and an epic crush on a new classmate. The only way to make sense of it all is to capture the highs and lows in doodles and hilarious comics in a diary.
Then life abruptly changes on September 11, 2001. After the Twin Towers fall and so many lives are lost, worries about gossip and boys feel distant and insignificant. Alyssa must find a new sense of self and purpose amidst all of the chaos, and find the strength to move forward with hope.
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